Security

Border management is not only about security but also about freer trade and transit. © OSCE

Border management, the EU, and UNDP

Border management has become a significant line of external assistance for the European Union, and for cooperation between member states, the European Commission, and the UN, particularly in the former Soviet Union (FSU). The funding comes from European Commission budget lines devoted to implementation of regional political strategies,such as the European Neighbourhood Programme and the Central Asia Strategy. Border management has also come to represent a major focus of UNDP multi-country programming in this region. Including related drug action programmes, since 2002 UNDP has initiated work in Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova, Belarus, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Broadly speaking, UNDP’s work to date has been understood as successful.1 Among other things, UNDP has implemented nearly 150 million Euros’ worth of EU border management programming during the past decade.

There is no question that the EU wishes to export its ‘soft power’ via these border management programmes. But what exactly does this entail? And what dangers and opportunities are presented for the UN’s development work by this cooperation?

For some EU member states, these programmes began as an important component of a broader agenda to develop European policy and capacity on security. Border management was (and still is) seen as an acceptable vehicle for common action against mutual threats: drug trafficking, movement of Islamic extremists, etc. However, some EU Member States and Commission officials remain opposed to UNDP implementation of these programmes, due in part to concerns about trying to advance that agenda under a UN rather than directly European umbrella. The different management arrangements for the EUBAM, SCIBM and BOMCA Programmes (click here for more information on these) therefore represent various Commission attempts to satisfy the EU Member States and keep UNDP’s role to that of ‘administrative support platform’ for the application of ‘visibly’ European expertise.

Many in the Commission recognize that only the UN has the operational capacity on the ground to deliver border management assistance on a multi-country basis. However, others see utilizing development assistance to enhance security as a somewhat quixotic enterprise: Commission rules of aid assistance do not allow the transfer of key equipment or expertise; drugs and militants flow like water, taking the easiest route, so that reinforcing certain border areas merely displaces (rather than eliminates) activities of concern; it is next to impossible to establish objectively verifiable indicators in regard to countering security threats; and the whole venture may be undermined by corruption within the border services, which can only be tackled through direct budget support to pay salaries, as part of a broader developmental approach to public administration reform.

Likewise, engaging UNDP to the projection of EU soft power in the FSU risks jeopardizing the neutrality and impartiality of the UN system in the eyes of other stakeholders. Russian concerns in regard to border security in its ‘near abroad’ are inter alia expressed operationally through its leadership of the Council of Border Guard Commanders of the countries belonging to the Commonwealth of Independent States. With a Secretariat based in the Lubyanka in Moscow (to which all CIS countries have attached liaison officers), the Council meets bi-annually. It has a mandate to coordinate joint efforts of Border Guards in relation to external CIS borders, as well as the reinforcement of internal border cooperation. Specific areas of work include harmonization of national legislation on border issues, mutual exchange of information, personnel training, and military/technical policy.

Suggestions for the future

In spring 2010, the Council of CIS Border Guard Commanders signed a memorandum of understanding with FRONTEX (the EU’s Border Agency), but the technical and institutional details of cooperation with the UNDP-implemented EU aid programmes have yet to be resolved. Significant discrepancies between the regulatory and technical models for border management being offered to CIS countries therefore remain. Most CIS countries seek to strike a balance between the ‘near abroad’ and the ‘new neighbourhood’: in autumn 2010, in the context of the SCIBM project, Armenia agreed to a European integrated border management strategy only weeks after extending the presence of Russian border forces within the country for a further 39 years.

But if the dangers here are obvious, so also are the opportunities—if the EU and UNDP can agree on a different, more collaborative agenda for the export of European border management to the CIS countries. The European model of border management has twin objectives: increased security, plus improved trade and transit facilitation. These objectives are seen as mutually reinforcing: stability and security attracts trade foreign investment; freer movement of goods and people enhances stability and security.

During the Andijan events of 2005 in Uzbekistan, the local community at Karasuu, a town in the Fergana Valley divided between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, opened a border crossing spontaneously, to support continued visits of relatives and to maintain what had previously been one of the largest cross-border markets in Central Asia. The BOMCA Programme acted immediately to secure agreement from the governments to keep the crossing open, with offers to provide the necessary means to ensure security. Within weeks up to 40,000 border crossings a day were being made, including multiple trips by small traders.

Apart from the economic support this provided to households in one of Central Asia’s poorer regions (e.g., providing residents of Kyrgyzstan with fresh fruit and vegetables in the winter; providing residents of Uzbekistan with access to manufactured goods from China) BOMCA helped defuse a direct challenge to state power at a critical moment and created a safety valve in the explosive environment of the Fergana. In this way, border management programmes can allow the EU and UN(DP) to express a voice on behalf of the most vulnerable households and help governments to strike critical balances between security and development.

Border areas are often comprised of large ethnic minorities (linked to neighbouring countries), communities that are marginalized in many respects. Beyond the Fergana Valley, frozen conflicts in the FSU countries—Transnistria, Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia, South Ossetia—are all located in border areas. While the full resolution of these conflicts is not in prospect, progress can be made by allowing local populations to cross borders with ID cards rather than passports. In addition to being familiar to many FSU countries from Soviet times, such systems can also be drawn from the experience of European integration. Modern European integrated border management methodologies can provide the technical means and cross-border procedures required.

Separating transit of local populations from international transit and cargo trade at border crossing points in the FSU countries could bring significant reductions in journey times and delays experienced at borders. Reconfiguring border crossing point infrastructure, providing modern equipment to automate processes, and introducing integrated border management practices such as joint control by border agencies, could further reduce travel times and delays.

Prosperity in Europe was built on the incremental removal of such barriers to trade and transit. The border management programmes could therefore do more to mobilize civil society and private enterprise—road hauliers, freight forwarders—to promote the free trade agreements signed between EU and FSU countries, as well as those trade agreements concluded among FSU countries (e.g., the EurasEC customs union). Freer trade and transit, democracy building and security can be advanced together.

Without abandoning its multi-country programming approach, the EU and UNDP may wish to consider targeting assistance more discriminately within these border management programmes. This might also help define clearer exit strategies for programming. In most FSU countries, the key border agency remains the Border Guards—a military force within each national security service. In the poorer FSU countries, transition to European border management standards will ultimately require EU direct budget support for border guard salaries. A prerequisite for this should be conversion from a largely conscript-based military force to professional civilian border police serving as an arm of the Ministry of Interior, accountable to parliaments, not presidencies.

People hate borders—uncertainties over laws and procedures, conforntation with state power, men with uniforms and guns. The Schengen arrangements therefore represent both the EU’s true soft power and a culturally iconic aspiration for many citizens in FSU countries. The EU-UNDP border management programmes can export to the CIS many of the principles and practices behind the Schengen arrangements, with enormous development potential: facilitating movements of local populations to reduce social tensions and resolve frozen conflicts; supporting trade as a smart and quick way to alleviate poverty; building democratic governance through support for civil society and private enterprise; and promoting security sector reform.

The EU-UNDP border management programmes flow from a powerful concept. They are well-funded and usually well-implemented. They should be better articulated to reflect a clearer and more developmental agenda, acceptable to all stakeholders in the FSU countries.
Philip Peirce is an independent consultant to UNDP for border management and migration projects.


1 See, for example, George Gavrilis, “Beyond the Border Management Programme for Central Asia”, EU Central Asia Monitoring, no. 11,November 2009.

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Border guards stamping documents in Osh, Kyrgyzstan. © BOMCA

EU-UNDP Border Management Programming in Europe and Central Asia

Border management is a key focus of development work, and partnerships between UN agencies, the European Union, and programme countries, in the developing and transition countries of Europe and Central Asia. In the past decade, EU-funded border management projects implemented by UNDP have delivered more than €140 million.

Specific projects include the following:

BOMCA:The Border Management for Central Asia programme  promotes the gradual adoption of integrated border management methods in the region by enhancing border security and facilitating legal trade and transit. The introduction of European integrated border management methodologies, based inter alia on the experience of the Schengen process (combining firm but modern ‘external’ border management with liberalized ‘internal’ border movements) is an important emphasis. Activities include policy advice on legal and institutional reforms, procurement of border infrastructure, and strengthening national border management capacities. BOMCA, which has delivered some €26 million in programming since its inception, is now moving into its eighth phase (with an €8 million budget). Implementation of BOMCA 8 will rely on a partnership between the European Commission, EU member states, UNDP, the Vienna-based International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICPMD), and other development partners. UNDP has also helped implement phases of the EU’s Central Asia Drug Action Programme, budgeted at €14 million.

Border Management in Badakhshan: Whereas BOMCA has focused primarily on internal borders within Central Asia, the European Commission is now adopting an approach similar to BOMCA’s vis a vis  the Tajikistan – Afghanistan border. The focus is on border regions in eastern Tajikistan’s mountainous Badakhshan province. UNDP has helped implement nearly €4 million under this programme.

EUBAM: The EU Border Assistance Mission to Moldova and Ukraine supports the two countries in better managing the 1,222 kilometre Ukrainian – Moldovan border, in particular focusing on the Transnistrian region segment. The mission trains and supports border guards and customs services in their efforts to facilitate the legal, efficient, cross-border movement of goods and persons, and contributes to the international community’s efforts to peacefully resolve the Transnistrian conflict. On-the-job training and advice to Moldovan and Ukrainian officials provided by more than 100 customs and border guard experts from 22 EU member states have proved to be effective capacity- building tools. UNDP has since 2005 been implementing EUBAM, which employs over 200 staff. Current commitments under this €55 million programme run until 2011.

BOMMOLUK: EUBAM has also coordinated the Improvement of Border Controls at the Moldova-Ukraine Border, a €9 million programme which is likewise UNDP implemented and co-funded. The project has focused on equipment procurement, risk analysis, and training for officers at joint border crossing points. The EU has funded technical assistance through direct procurement of goods and services by the EU delegations, and through direct budget support (in Ukraine). These initiatives are designated ‘EUBAM flanking measures’.

SCIBM: The South Caucasus Integrated Border Management programme , has since 2009 been supporting the implementation of integrated border management strategies by the governments of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. Whereas overall contractual responsibility vis-à-vis the European Commission rests with UNDP, implementation of project components is delegated to border management agencies in the Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland, as well as ICMPD.

BOMBEL (Enhancing Border Management in Belarus), BOMUK (Enhancing Border Management in Ukraine), and EBCMP (Enhancing Border Control Management in Moldova) have followed essentially the same pattern as BOMCA, offering a package of capacity building measures for each country’s state border guard service, including training, creating European-standard accommodation centres for irregular migrants, upgrading dog training centres, and introducing sophisticated technology, such as the biometric identification of travellers. Some €20 million in has been delivered under these programmes.

SCAD: The South Caucasus Anti-Drug Programme  combines integrated border management to prevent narcotics trafficking (supply-side interdiction) with support for national efforts to prevent drug abuse and care for drug addicts (demand-side management). UNDP has helped implement nearly €6 million under this programme.

BUMAD: Prevention of Drug Abuse and Fighting Drug Trafficking in Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova takes a similar approach to drug abuse and trafficking in the Western CIS countries. UNDP has helped implement €7 million under the first three phases of this programme.

Customs Modernization in Azerbaijan: UNDP has since 1999 been helping the State Customs Committee to automate its work via the introduction of modern ICT instruments, as well as simplify border and customs regulation  EC funding of €800,000 has supported this multi-million dollar initiative.
Vitalie Vremis (UNDP Moldova) and Zuzana Aschenbrennerova (UNDP Regional Centre, Slovakia)

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© Chris Loades/Fauna & Flora International

Borders, security and instability in the Fergana Valley

The Fergana valley, divided between three countries—Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan—is home to over 10.5 million people. International aid agencies calculate that up to 60 percent of the combined populations of all three countries are poor; living on or below $500 per year. The population is also highly diverse with significant communities of Uzbeks, Tajiks, Kyrgyz, and Russians, as well as numerous smaller groups.

Since independence, there has been considerable international concern that the region could become a centre for major conflict. In the final years of the Soviet Union ethnic violence broke out in southern Kyrgyzstan, and tens of thousands of Meskhetians fled Uzbekistan. Over the last decade violent Islamist movements and powerful narco-criminal groups have emerged in the region, often using Afghanistan as a base for their activities. In the mid-1990s, a civil war in Tajikistan led to the death of over 50,000 persons. Many analysts point to the weakness of the region’s states as a source of instability. The issue of borders in the Fergana Valley thus needs to be understood within the context of an interrelated and complex set of factors that together have the potential for promoting significant regional instability.

 

Since the early 1990s, dozens of persons have been killed by mines in the Fergana Valley’s border areas. Significant sections of the border between the three countries remain undemarcated, causing confusion and creating tensions. Elsewhere, agreement on borders has been the prelude to the introduction of tight border restrictions.

Building Borders in the Fergana Valley

The roots of contemporary border challenges lie in the incorporation of the Fergana Valley into the Russian Empire in the nineteenth century. This began a process of remaking the region’s political, economic and social space. The porous and fluid borders of the Russian conquest were steadily replaced by a new set of administrative divisions defined by the colonial regime.

During the early Soviet period, this process was greatly accelerated with the launch of a comprehensive delimitation of the Fergana Valley—as part of the broader process under way across Soviet Central Asia and, indeed, the USSR. The foundations for the Soviet administrative system in the region became the three Union Republics—the Kyrgyz, Uzbek, and Tajik Soviet Socialist Republics—putatively created on the basis of ‘titular’ nations. A boundary commission that operated from 1924-27, and then continued to work from the mid-1950s until the end of the Soviet Union, established the republican borders.

In fact, ethnic and national identities in the region were only weakly developed at that time and had to be reinforced by nearly 70 years of Soviet nation-building programmes. Just as important was the reality of complex ethnic mixing, economic interdependence, and social networks that straddled the newly created republican boundaries. The Soviet-era division of the region thus often ran contrary to the society on the ground, established networks of commerce, and historical forms of rule.

While the administrative divisions did cause frictions during the Soviet period, these boundaries did not create a major impediment to long-established social and economic patterns. The Fergana Valley was largely open within the USSR; internal ‘borders’ had little practical significance. Indeed, the Soviet authorities continued to build regional infrastructure across republican borders and to shift territory between the three republics with little concern about possible consequences.

The collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of independent states in Central Asia almost overnight transformed administrative divisions into international borders. A notable development was the sudden creation of independent countries with large ethnic minorities, who in most cases live along borders contiguous with their proto-ethnic homeland.

Particularly important are the Uzbek minorities found in substantial communities in southern Kyrgyzstan and northern Tajikistan, and outside the Fergana Valley in southern Kazakhstan and northern Turkmenistan. At the same time, nearly a million ethnic Kazakhs are citizens of Uzbekistan, as well as many millions of ethnic Tajiks (notably in Bukhara and Samarkand). There are important concentrations of ethnic Kyrgyz in the portions of the Fergana Valley belonging to Uzbekistan. This pattern has raised concerns about the possible emergence of irredentist movements across the region.

The ethnic dimension is, however, only one aspect of the challenge created by the introduction of international borders in the Fergana Valley. Despite the Soviet project to promote three distinct national republics, the historical legacy in the region continues to be one of a patchwork quilt of interdependence created by irrigation, road, energy and rail net works. In some parts, borders cut through villages and backyards. There are important land leasing agreements between governments and a series of exclaves in the region, including individual villages totally surrounded by the territory of another country.

In the early 1990s, little was done to formalize the nominally international borders, although the introduction of passport and visa requirements already began to impose a new situation on the region. As the civil war in Tajikistan escalated however, Uzbekistan initiated a series of measures to secure its border, including laying mines and militarizing the border region—and its exclaves.

In the late 1990s, states in the region began to construct stronger border regimes—in part in response to the violent incursion of Islamist militants from Afghanistan in 1999 and 2000. Along the Uzbekistan-Kyrgyzstan border fences were built, bridges destroyed and roads dug up to create a defined number of crossing points. Borders became increasingly militarized. A bilateral boundary commission was set up and began the difficult task of demarcating borders.

Border tensions an conflict

The construction of highly regulated and militarized borders is seen in the capitals as reflecting the priorities of state building, national security and combating cross-border criminal activity, notably drug smuggling. The local view has been rather different: here,borders are often seen in a negative light, as creating innumerable everyday difficulties for the populations that live along the border. Frequently voiced concerns include:

  • Excessive restrictions on cross-border local trade, especially in agricultural produce.
  • Corruption of the border authorities.
  • The break up of family relations; many families have relatives on opposite sides of the border.
  • The difficulties borders impose for travel within one country, since many roads were built crossing today’s borders—sometimes many times.
  • Civil society and human rights organizations argue that the closing of borders is instrumental to political repression.
  • Cross-border disputes over water and land.
  • Fears over personal safety due to the militarization of borders and the loss of livestock that wander into border areas.

 

Regular incidents of violence reflect local frustrations over these issues. There is also a close correlation between frictions along the borders and state-to-state tensions. The friction periodically erupts into local violence among Kyrgyz, Tajiks and Uzbeks—at the local level—and has led to dangerous confrontations with border officials. The most conflict-ridden border regions are those found in Batken Oblast, Kyrgyzstan; Fergana Oblast, Uzbekistan; and Sughd Oblast, Tajikistan. Here conflicts occur on a regular basis over cross-border water and land issues. But tensions are present all along the international borders in the Fergana Valley.

For example: in 2009, tensions rapidly escalated along the Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan border following what Uzbekistan described as violent Islamic militant attacks in late May inside the country. According to Kyrgyz media reports, the Uzbekistan authorities responded by building three-meter-wide trenches in some border areas. Kyrgyzstan’s Border Protection Service issued a formal protest on June 9. Analysts can trace Uzbek-Kyrgyz tensions back to the previous winter, when Bishkek pushed forward with plans to build the Kambarata complex of hydropower stations, thus potentially threatening to limit water supplies for Uzbekistan’s thirsty cotton sector.

The tightening of the border had an immediate effect on border communities. The Osh and Kara-Suu bazaars, two of the largest markets in the Fergana Valley, were particularly hard-hit by the closure of border checkpoints. Traders at Kara-Suu said that the continued Uzbek border closure could potentially lead to the closure of the bazaar (most of whose customers came from Uzbekistan). After the closure of borders, sales at the bazaar dropped by more than 50 percent. A number of analysts have suggested that poverty and anger against Uzbekistan over the border issue contributed to the violence that left over 400 dead and created 400,000 displaced persons in southern Kyrgyzstan in the spring of 2010. In another incident, tensions between Tashkent and Dushanbe over the proposed construction of vast new hydroelectric dams in Tajikistan fed into a tense situation on the border. On 22 March 2010, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Tajikistan presented a note of protest to the Ambassador of Uzbekistan in Dushanbe complaining of interruptions in railway cargo headed for Tajikistan across the Uzbek border. Tajikistan’s Prime Minister Akil Akilov then complained to the international community about the situation on the Tajik-Uzbek border during his visit to the UN headquarters in New York and to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon during the latter ’s official visit to Tajikistan requesting help to resolve the tensions between the two countries.

Despite the creation of border commissions, over a decade later, large sections of the borders in the Fergana Valley remain to be delimited. Problems over disputed settlements are only slowly being resolved. Thus, it was only in early September 2010 that families from a disputed area along the the Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan border finally received land to build houses in a nearby village in Kyrgyzstan. The mostly ethnic Uzbek families left the village of Chek earlier in the summer after Uzbekistan announced it was coming under its jurisdiction, electing to live in Kyrgyzstan. In this case, it was the availability of international assistance in connection with the violence in southern Kyrgyzstan in June 2010 that allowed the relocation to proceed.

Border issues and regional instability

Finding ways to promote better managed and more open borders has been a priority for over a decade. Numerous regional and international efforts have been launched to address single issues or the whole complex of questions related to the region’s border regimes.

Despite these efforts, to date there has been little progress in reversing the trend toward more rigid borders. Against the background of growing violence in the region, there seems a real prospect of increased measures to further separate the populations of the Fergana valley. Such steps, however, risk further aggravating the already fragile situation and contributing to the growing instability in the region.

Despite the creation of strict border regimes in the Fergana Valley, the region’s overlapping borders are notoriously porous, portals for narcotics smugglers and—regional governments claim—Islamic insurgents. Further efforts to tighten the borders now seem inevitable given recent developments in Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan. Experience suggests,however, that steps to strengthen borders tend to exacerbate regional tensions and promote cycles of instability.

Neil Melvin is Director of the Armed Conflict and Conflict Management Programme, and Senior Fellow at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

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A wall separating Babin Most, a Serbian village on the road from Pristina to Mitrovica. Recent incidents in Mitrovica, which is divided between Serbs and Kosovars, underscore the fragility of prospects for cross-border cooperation. © Andrew Testa/ Panos Pictures

Cross-border cooperation in the Western Balkans: roadblocks and prospects

Regional development and cross-border cooperation in the Western Balkans is one of the key areas of intervention by multilateral international institutions such as the European Union, the World Bank, UNDP, Council of Europe and EBRD (European Bank for Reconstruction and Development). To illustrate, in order to reinforce cooperation with countries bordering the European Union, the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI) includes a component specifically targeted at cross-border cooperation (CBC). Some 15 CBC programmes (9 land borders, 3 sea crossings and 3 sea basin programmes) have been established along the Eastern and Southern external borders of the European Union with a total funding of €1.2 billion for 2007-2013.

The regions which benefit from CBC have a total population, on both sides of the EU borders, of some 257.5 million citizens—of which 45 percent live in the Northern and Eastern border regions, and 55 percent in the Southern border regions—49 percent in the EU border regions, and 51 percent in the border regions of the partner countries.

Table 1: Population in the Border Regons in Europe (millions, 2009)

*This includes nine land borders, three sea crossings and three sea basin programmes.

The nature of funding programmes earmarked towards CBC underlines the objective of long-term sustainability. This involvement and multi-level commitment by the international community is a key driver of regional development and cross-border cooperation in the Western Balkans. It is gradually making progress, albeit from a rather low point of departure given the wars and ethnic conflicts of the 1990s.

Regional ownership – the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC)

The Regional Cooperation Council (RCC),1 established in 2008 and located in Sarajevo, is the most visible sign of new institutional capacity to advance regional as well as local ownership of the policy process. The hope is that regional cooperation in the Balkans can also be delivered by those who are expected to practice and benefit from it. The RCC promotes mutual cooperation and European and Euro-Atlantic integration in Southeast Europe. It focuses on six priority areas: economic and social development, energy and infrastructure, justice and home affairs, security cooperation, building human capital, and parliamentary cooperation. In operational terms, the Heads of State and Government of the Southeast European Cooperation Process (SEECP) (including Greece, Turkey, the western and Eastern Balkans and Black Sea countries) provide the political backing for the RCC’s annual work programme, while the European Commission provides most of the funding. The key aim is to generate and coordinate developmental projects and create a political climate amenable to implementing projects of a wider, regional character, to the benefit of each individual member.

Regional development and cross-border cooperation in the EU context

CBC in the EU context uses an approach largely modelled on structural fund principles such as multi-year programming, partnerships, and co-financing, adapted to take into account the specificities of the European Commission’s external rules and regulations. One major innovation of the ENPI CBC can be seen in the fact that the programmes involving regions on both sides of the EU border share a single budget, common management structures, and a common legal framework and implementation rules, helping to balance partnerships between the participating countries. The European Commission also promotes cross-border cooperation and bilateral development in the Western Balkans through the Instrument for Pre-Accession (IPA) financial assistance tool. This instrument is operational since 2008 and currently applies to all countries in Southeast Europe seeking membership in the European Union. Annual programmes are implemented in cooperation with the international donor community and co-managed with local representatives from the beneficiary countries.

To illustrate the modus operandi of IPA, consider the Annual Programme for Montenegro in 2009/10 with regard to cross-border cooperation. In the priority axis 2, the so-called economic criteria, the EU Delegation in Podgorica awarded €5 million for the rehabilitation of the main rail line Bar-Vrbnica, to the border with Serbia. The beneficiaries of this project are the Ministries of Transport and Telecommunications in both countries as well as the respective railways companies. Given that such transport infrastructure investments require considerable financial resources which the recipient countries do not possess by themselves, the multi-year project is being co-financed with supplementary loans from the European Investment Bank and EBRD totalling €10 million.2

A further project illustration in the Commission’s IPA programming cycle for 2009/10 concerns joint cross-border programmes between Montenegro, Albania and Kosovo3 in the Kukes region. The rehabilitation and improvement of border crossing infrastructure in Morine in the Kukes region bordering Albania and Kosovo has a total budget of €0.46 million in 2009/10. In comparison to the previous example, the sums are small, largely because many implementing regulations are absent in Kosovo. At present, EU CBC programming involving Kosovo’s cooperation with neighbouring countries is being hampered by the ongoing limitations of the international recognition process.4 These limitations suggest that regional disparities may in fact be cemented despite cross-border cooperation seeking to reduce such differences.

Table 2: CBC Assistance provided by the EU in the IPA Framework 2007- 2013

Source: Communication from the Commission, IPA 2011-2013, Com (2009) 543, 14th October 2009.

A further example underlining the importance of and challenges to regional development and cross-border cooperation in the Western Balkans concerns minority rights and protection. Most countries in the region continue to have refugees and displaced persons from the wars of the 1990s.

In Montenegro, for example, the authorities in Podgorica still need to resolve the status of approximately 16,200 refugees from Kosovo.5 Cross-border cooperation between Montenegro and Kosovo in this delicate area needs to address such issues as:

  • The legal status of refugees and displaced persons (e.g., concerning access to employment for foreigners);
  • Construction of accommodation for Roma refugees from Kosovo;
  • Of particular concern is the situation of the Konnik refugee camp close to Podgorica;6
  • Creating legal conditions for the integration of those refugees and displaced persons who wish to remain in Montenegro and acquire Montenegrin citizenship by naturalization;
  • The capacity of Kosovo to absorb and re-integrate refugees from neighbouring countries in terms of housing, labour market participation and educational infrastructure.7

 

But while Montenegro and Kosovo may seek to jointly resolve some of these challenges, outstanding issues with neighbouring Serbia can obstruct such bilateral initiatives. Relations with Serbia continue to be disrupted by the Montenegrin decision to recognize Kosovo’s independence. The Montenegrin Ambassador in Belgrade was declared persona non grata in October 2008. A new Ambassador was only accredited to Belgrade in September 2009, almost a year later.

Cross-border cooperation – two encouraging examples from the field

Incremental functional cooperation is taking place on the ground in selected policy-making fields. There are specific examples from the region where cross-border cooperation among countries is starting to manifest itself without primarily being driven by considerations of future political rewards from the European Union. The joint decision by three former Yugoslav republics in August 2010 to form a common railway company aimed at winning back some of the Central European freight business lost during the wars of the 1990s is a case in point.

The commercial objective of the joint enterprise is to ensure rapid freight service along the so-called Corridor X, which links Germany and Austria with Turkey. To date, such transport infrastructure investments had largely by-passed potential rail corridors in the former Yugoslavia, due to a lack of political will to identify actionable projects in this dimension of cross-border cooperation.8

A second encouraging example concerns bilateral relations with other countries seeking EU integration. For instance, Montenegro signed an agreement with Albania on cooperation in science, technology and culture in 2009. Concrete steps in such areas as joint border patrols and information exchange against organized crime are taking place. Moreover, Montenegro established a joint working group with Croatian counterparties on resolving property issues and a council on economic relations is holding regular meetings.

Even defence cooperation and joint border police training activities are taking place between countries that a decade ago were at war with each other, while negotiations on agreements in social security are ongoing between various countries in the Western Balkans.

Prospects for cross-border cooperation

Possibly the most important arena for and challenge to cross-border cooperation in the Western Balkans concerns political and institutional arrangements between Serbia and Kosovo. The former refuses to recognize the latter as an independent sovereign state and therefore does not acknowledge the legitimacy of its borders. Meanwhile, the latter itself is having difficulties convincing its own ethnic Albanian population that cross-border cooperation with Serbia may be in its own best interest, in order to advance the international recognition process for Kosovo.9

A recent incident in the city of Mitrovica which is ethnically divided between Serbs and Kosovars highlighted the delicacy of the situation and the magnitude of the tasks facing Serbia and Kosovo and the 2,000 strong European Union police mission stationed in Kosovo. In mid-September a French police officer was shot and wounded during clashes between ethnic Albanians and Serbs who pelted each other with stones at the foot of the bridge over the river Ibar that separates the two communities. These clashes occurred after Turkey defeated Serbia in the semi-finals of the world basketball championship.

The clashes underscore the deep divide that runs between both communities more than a decade after the end of the Kosovo war in 1999. It is in cities such as Mitrovica that the feasibility of regional development and cross-border cooperation is most acutely tested in the Western Balkans. Cross-border cooperation is making headway in the field of economic inter-change and public-private investments by the EU, the EBRD and the World Bank. However, it appears that business-related initiatives are primarily driving such regional cooperation. Meanwhile politics and implementation capacity have yet to live up to the specific policies being advocated by the European Union, the Regional Cooperation Council, and other international organizations.

Jens Bastian is Alpha Bank Fellow for South Eastern Europe at St. Antony’s College in Oxford, U.K. He is also a Senior Economic Research Fellow at ELIAMEP (Hellenic Foundation for European & Foreign Policy) in Athens, Greece.


1 The RCC is the successor of the Stability Pact for Southeast Europe. While its secretariat is located in Sarajevo, the RCC also has a liaison office in Brussels. The Secretary General of the Regional Cooperation Council is Hido Biscevic. For further information consult www.rcc.int.

2 EIB is the financing institution of the European Union. It has provided in excess of €4.5 billion in loan to finance the region of the Western Balkans during the past five years.

3 Hereafter referred to in the context of the UN Security Council Resolution 1244 (1999).

4 IPA regulations (Component II as defined in Article 91 of Implementing Regulations) stipulate that a participating country must be fully capable of assuming the financial, administrative and
regulatory responsibilities of carrying out such bilateral projects.

5 For a country totalling roughly 610,000 inhabitants (Montenegro), this is a rather high ratio of refugees from one neighbouring country alone. More than 5,600 refugees from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina also reside in Montenegro.

6 It is the single largest refugee camp, has received considerable media attention inside and outside the country as well as being identified by the European Commission as a test case for the Montenegrin authorities to identify sustainable solutions according to EU standards.

7 The so-called Sarajevo Declaration process, which aims to finalize refugee returns in the Western Balkans since 2006 is only making limited progress. While participating countries are working on their respective roadmaps, there has been limited discussion of implementation issues on either a bilateral or a regional basis.

8 Instead during the past 20 years such rail corridors had been going through Hungary and Romania.

9 Until September 2010 only 70 countries had officially recognized Kosovo, chief among them the United States and 22 of the 27 members of the European Union. But Serbia, Russia, China, Romania, Slovakia, Cyprus, Greece and Spain have not recognized the sovereignty of Kosovo.

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